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“We Are Still a Resilient Community”: Chicago Latinos Unite in Philanthropy

Latino-serving nonprofits celebrate impact of Nuestro Futuro: 10 years, $2 million in grants to 65 orgs Tweet This

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Since 1870, Erie Neighborhood House has been serving Chicago’s Latino families in communities like West Town, Humboldt Park and Pilsen. The organization provides a range of support, from adult English classes to career skills certification—but it’s their preschool programs that most families are initially searching for, connecting with other services once they discover all that’s available.

Meanwhile, in western Lake County, the town of Round Lake Park has seen demographic changes resulting in a population that is now 60% Latino; the local government, like many nearby, has struggled to keep up with evolving needs. The town’s police chief, mayor, state senator and other civic leaders joined forces to create Mano a Mano Family Resource Center, where adult education, health access, immigration support and other services help to ensure a more fully integrated and engaged community.

These two different perspectives on the Latino experience in our region shared the stage on October 19 at a panel discussion and luncheon to mark the 10th anniversary of Nuestro Futuro.

An identity-focused fund at The Chicago Community Trust, Nuestro Futuro was created to promote philanthropy within the Latino community. In ten years of grant making, the group has awarded more than $2 million to 65 nonprofits—like Mano a Mano and Erie Neighborhood House—serving Latino communities throughout Chicago and the suburbs.

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Maria Wynne (left), chief executive officer of Leadership Greater Chicago, talks with Nuestro Futuro co-chair Maria Bechily (center) and Shawn Donnelly of the Trust’s executive committee.

In her welcome address, co-chair Maria Bechily announced that Nuestro Futuro has raised $6 million to date, making it one of the largest Latino endowments in the nation.

Moderated by steering committee member Eric Lugo, the panel discussion teamed Mano a Mano Family Resource Center’s executive director Megan McKenna de Mejia and senior director of programs for Erie Neighborhood House Rebecca Estrada with James Alexander, co-trustee of The Elizabeth Morse Charitable Trust and Elizabeth Morse Genius Charitable Trust, which provided a $5 million matching grant to Nuestro Futuro.

According to Alexander, “Identity-focused funds provide knowledge and information to philanthropists that we might not be able to access otherwise.”

In addition to directing charitable dollars to nonprofits, giving groups like Nuestro Futuro also create “a pipeline of leadership” connecting and elevating Latino donors, nonprofit professionals and other civic leaders.

Panelists seated on the stage
Steering committee member Eric Lugo, at left, leads discussion with Jim Alexander of The Elizabeth Morse Charitable Trust, and Rebecca Estrada of Erie Neighborhood House and Megan McKenna de Mejia of Mano a Mano Family Resource Center, both grant recipients of Nuestro Futuro.

For Mano a Mano, grants like Nuestro Futuro’s enable them to focus on learning in Latino families. Due to challenges like access to transportation and language barriers, Megan McKenna de Mejia said, 80% of children in the communities they serve never go to pre-school.

“Because children are not exposed to academic content until kindergarten, there is already an achievement gap when they start school,” she explained. “They are already behind.” Mano a Mano fills that gap—both through early childhood education, and by equipping parents with the tools and the confidence to be their children’s first teachers at home.

Addressing the current budget shortfalls, Rebecca Estrada described the “heartbreaking” choices to cut back on services that Erie has faced. But the organization has been resourceful—enlisting volunteers to serve as youth mentors, for example.

“There are many ways to give, to give of your time. Help a mom build her resume, or work on job interview skills. We don’t say ‘no’ to anybody” with skills to share, Estrada said.

“We are still a resilient community.”

Guests listening and smilingPanelists shared the impact of the grants they received from Nuestro Futuro, including early childhood education programs and a bilingual speech therapist for children. In ten years of grant making, the group has awarded more than $2 million to 65 nonprofits.

Echoing that message, Alexander added, “One sentiment that gets missed in the debates that are going on today is how great Illinois is, and how terrific our people are.”

Grassroots nonprofit organizations have always been tremendously resourceful at problem-solving. And today more than ever, serving communities and closing equity gaps requires the contributions of everyone in our community, pooled together for maximum impact.

“Nuestro Futuro is you, and it’s me, and it’s the time that we give,” said co-chair Adela Cepeda in her closing remarks. “At a time when our voices seem muted, organizations like this really speak to the power of what we can do.”